Mr. Dayton to Mr. Seward

No. 400.]

Sir: I have at length received from Mr. Drouyn de l’Huys, a reply in reference to the Rappahannock, now at Calais.

It would seem that upon inquiries made by their own agents they are led to believe that the visit of the Rappahannock was casual and of necessity, and that they feel constrained, therefore, to treat this vessel like other vessels in distress only. I am quite sure, from the facts in my possession, that she made her escape from English waters by night, and came into the port of Calais in an unfinished condition; that she is now using that neutral port for the purpose of completing such equipment I think there is no doubt. From the fact, too, that twelve or fourteen men were there waiting her arrival, and, after a signal shown, attempted to get on board of her by a ruse, it is evident that she was expected in that port. I am by no means satisfied with the course of action which this government has adopted in reference to these vessels, and more especially in reference to the Rappahannock. I have already given them to understand that we shall consider them responsible for all damages which may accrue to us by reason of any future depredations committed by this vessel.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward Secretary of State, &c., &c., &c.

[Page 19]

Mr. Drouyn de l’Huys to Mr. Dayton

Sir: I have just received the answer of the minister of marine to the communications which I had addressed to him, as I have had the honor to inform you by my letter of the 23d of last month, in regard to the stay at Calais of the vessel the Rappahannock. It appears from it that this matter has already attracted the attention of M. le Cte. de Chasseloup Laubat, and that he had hastened to give the necessary orders that the captain of the vessel referred to might be able solely to put it in a state of navigability, and revictual with provisions and coal. It results also from an inquiry which was entered into on the spot, that Calais was not at all the port of destination of the Rappahannock when she left the shores of England; that unforeseen accidents only led her to take refuge in our waters, and that we could not under these circumstances refuse her an asylum, any more than to any other vessel placed in the same situation. This vessel has been, however, and continues to be the object of special surveillance, and you yourself will be satisfied with the care with which watch is kept that no suspicious object be introduced on board, by reading the report on this subject addressed to the department of the marine by the competent local authority, and herewith annexed in copy. I will add that M. le Cte. de Chasseloup Laubat, in limiting the facilities accorded to the Rappahannock to what is demanded for the equipment and seaworthiness of an ordinary vessel of commerce, has besides given directions not to authorize her to prolong her stay at Calais, so soon as she shall be in a state to go to sea.

Receive the assurances of the high consideration with which I have the honor to be, sir, your very humble and very obedient servant,


Mr. Dayton, Minister of the United States at Paris.


Upon the receipt of the despatch of your excellency, I requested further information of the established inspector of the customs in regard to the Rappahannock. It appears from his answer that the information given to H. E. M. the minister of foreign affairs has considerably exaggerated the significance of the number of packages addressed in this port to the confederate steamer.

If the slightest attempt had been made to embark arms, munitions of war, or machines which might have been able to facilitate a transformation to the vessel, which has constantly been held in suspicion here, or to give to it the means of taking the offensive upon leaving Calais, severe measures would have been taken immediately, the Rappahannock detained, and orders requested without delay from your excellency, by means of the telegraph.

It is correct, M. le Ministre, that quite a large quantity of material and manufactured objects has been imported from England, but, with the exception of pipes, destined to replace the defective parts of the tubular boilers, and the screw, no object of essential interest to it has reached here for the confederate steamer. Moreover, was not the screw absolutely indispensable? The vessel was provided with two screws in bronze, but in the state of the engine they caused a trembling which greatly fatigued the rear of the vessel, and an [Page 20] English manufacturer having proposed to Captain Campbell to take them in exchange for a single screw in cast-iron, he consented to this substitution, which even yet has not been made, although this propeller has been here for several weeks. The remainder of the packages contained some water-casks, utensils for the kitchen or intended for the steward’s room, cloth or linen intended to clothe the crew, wool, &c., to mend the clothes, lace, blacking, signal flags, and not signal rockets; all objects, in fine, which permit this vessel to revictual as a vessel of commerce might do, by paying the duties, according to the usual tariffs for objects coming from abroad. If this vessel did not procure for herself here that which was wanting for its navigability, it could not go to sea, its masting particularly being so slightly supported that it would have fallen in the first rough weather.

As I have made known to your excellency, from the beginning of the confederate steamer’s stay here, I have concerted with M. the inspector of the customs upon the measures of “surveillance” of which this vessel ought to be the object. A visit on board was made by these gentlemen upon its arrival, and did not lead to the discovery of either arms or artillery. The sacks, &c., of the sailors which have embarked have been examined. When the package arrives for the Rappahannock, it is visited by the custom-house officer upon landing, then escorted on board by an officer, or a sub-officer, and an officer of the customs. Besides, when this vessel shall be on the point of going to sea, a last search, as severe as possible, will be made on board. It has been for several weeks moored in the floating-dock, where officers of the customs are always on guard. This surveillance is sufficient to give security and to induce the assurance that upon leaving this port, where, it is true, it will be put in a good state of seaworthiness, the confederate vessel, whatever may be its name or its destination, will not be able to attack any vessel. Upon quitting Calais, this steamer, which put in there in a very defective state, although having on board elements almost sufficient to finish rendering her seaworthy, and even provisions in a sufficiently large quantity, will only be armed and equipped as a good vessel of commerce.